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Wednesday, 10 August 2011

What is today’s equivalent to Jon Snow’s Map?

The question that was raised by James Reid from JISC during the workshop I was leading at the open geo health event. I would be interested to hear what the readers of this blog think? The workshop was discussing “why GIS is under-utilised in the NHS?” The term GIS in this sense is probably better replaced by location or spatially enabled technology as it encompasses the extent and breadth of contemporary desktop/web/mobile technology.

The question, “What is today’s equivalent to Jon Snow’s Map?” has resonated with me and got me thinking. To consider the answer to this question – we must first understand why the map of cholera deaths is so important: Here are my initial thoughts:

  1. Example of an early GIS – on paper with different layers (pumps, deaths, location of water companies and places of interest such as brewery/ poor house/ plague burial plot).

  2. Represented a paradigm shift in thinking related to cholera transmission – by providing an evidence base for the theory that Cholera is transmitted by water and is not air-borne.

Is there a modern health mapping equivalent? In the world of Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) and humanitarian aid for which health is a component, I would propose that the crowd-sourced mapping of Hati has had considerable impact with a group of volunteers creating geographic data by tracing up-to-date satellite imagery and using the resulting data to develop applications for use by crisis responders.

In the field of Health, there are two other applications that come of the fore: Health Maps and EpiCollect. Health Maps began in 2006 and aggregates content from resources such as the World Health Organisation to provide real-time information on emerging infectious disease outbreaks. The recently developed EpiCollect is a mobile application tool that facilitates the collection of user content via questionnaires or surveys. Both of these initiatives are useful but whether they are the modern day equivalent of John Snow – I am not sure.


  1. I would say the crowd-sourced flu epidemic maps from about 2 years ago - in the sense that they contribute to monitoring the spread of an epidemic and understanding it, just as the original map did.

  2. Some god discussion on the topic on GIS SE site: